NFL Receiver’s Arrest for Underage Betting Raises Age-Old Issue

Last week New England Patriots wide receiver Kayshon Boutte was arrested in Louisiana for computer fraud and prohibited gaming. Prosecutors accuse the former LSU star of betting on sports when he was 20 years old and using an alias to circumvent the state’s 21-year-old minimum age requirement.

Had Boutte bet on sports as a 20-year-old in certain other states, he could have done so without breaking the law.

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Louisiana is one of 38 states to offer legalized sports betting, a practice made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Murphy v. NCAA. The Supreme Court held it was unconstitutional for Congress, through the Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992, to compel states to deny sports betting when there was no accompanying federal standard.

Most states with legalized sports betting use 21 as the minimum age to bet, the same age required to purchase alcohol per the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Twenty-one is also the age many states use as a minimum to play games at a casino and to play poker for money.

In setting a minimum age for an activity, age acts as a proxy, often for maturity. Although individual maturity levels vary, 21-year-olds are generally regarded as mature enough to consume alcohol and play at casinos.

And, nowadays, to bet on sports.

Some in the gaming community have warned that states using 18 as the minimum age are taking a chance.

Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, recently told television station WCPO, “The age group that is most at risk of developing a gambling problem are males 18 to 35 … The younger ones are most vulnerable as they’re not at the age yet where they can thoroughly process the consequences of their actions.”

Yet a handful of states use 18 as the minimum age to bet on sports—Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wyoming opted for the younger threshold. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also use 18.

In the U.S., 18 is generally regarded as the age of majority. When Americans turn 18, the law deems them adults. They can vote, sign enforceable contracts, apply for credit cards, play the lottery and, without the need for parental consent, join the Armed Forces. Many of them go off to college and live away from home for the first time. In short, they’re now grownups.

“Here in New Hampshire, 18 is the minimum age we tend to use for gaming activities,” NH Lottery Commission executive director Charlie McIntyre told Sportico in a phone interview. To McIntyre’s point, the Granite State has set 18 as the minimum wage for lottery, charity bingo and pull-tabs. “So, it made sense to use [18] for sports betting.”

McIntyre believes limiting young persons’ exposure to sports betting advertising is more significant than whether 18 or 21 is the minimum age they can legally play.

“I think what’s more important is what college students see,” McIntyre said. “We don’t allow sports betting advertising and promotions on college campuses [in New Hampshire]. That probably has more of an impact than a minimum age.”

Even if Boutte had bet in a state where he was old enough to do so legally, he would have still run afoul of NCAA rules and—if caught—run the risk of forfeiting his NCAA eligibility.

The NCAA bars athletes, coaches and athletic staff from betting on sports or providing information that could influence a bet. Depending on dollar amounts wagered, whether they bet on their own sport and whether the bet impacted games, college athletes face penalties ranging from attending required sports wagering rules education to a permanent loss of eligibility.

Boutte allegedly placed more than 8,900 bets, sometimes on his own team and other times prop bets on his own performance. According to one estimate, Boutte’s inside knowledge didn’t translate into a profit: on net, he apparently lost $65,000 in 2022 and an additional $16,000 last year.

A Patriots sixth-round pick in 2023 who caught two passes in his rookie season, Boutte isn’t the only athlete accused of illegal betting while playing in college. A group of current and former athletes from Iowa and Iowa State have been ensnared in a criminal investigation into underage sports betting.

McIntyre, a former prosecutor in Boston who took on drug dealers and organized crime, suspects these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg in college sports.

“There are tens of thousands of college football players every year who play on teams that sometimes have more than 100 players, only a tiny fraction of whom have legit NFL aspirations, and they play at schools that often can’t afford to hire personnel to really watch what is going on,” McIntyre said.

He also noted that college rosters constantly change, with turnover brought on by players graduating and new recruits arriving.

“Think of how many kids at these places know about player injuries, either directly from players or their friends or their classmates?” McIntyre asked. “And think of how many workers, including fellow students, assistants, trainers or media persons have access to information that would be valuable? It’s an enormous number.”

McIntyre is critical of the NCAA, who he suggested “has the most exposure and the fewest resources to oversee sports betting.” He contends the organization failed to grasp “the size and scope of the problem” when states began to legalize sports betting in 2018. Around that same time, pro leagues adopted a different approach: They hired “serious law enforcement” to monitor sports betting activities connected to players, coaches and staff.

As for Boutte, he’s still on the Patriots roster. A team spokesperson said the Patriots understand their young receiver is cooperating with law enforcement but has no further comment. Boutte, who turned 21 last May, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted of computer fraud.

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